How Real-World Apps Lose Data

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2021-06-06 21:30:05

A great thing about modern app development is that there are cloud providers to worry about things like hardware failures or how to set up RAID. Decent cloud providers are extremely unlikely to lose your app’s data, so sometimes I get asked what backups are really for these days. Here are some real-world stories that show exactly what.

This first story is from a data science project: it was basically a big, complex pipeline that took data collected from ongoing research and crunched it in various ways to feed some cutting-edge model. The user-facing application hadn’t been launched yet, but a team of data scientists and developers had been working on building the model and its dataset for several months.

The people working on the project had their own development environments for experimental work. They’d do something like export ENVIRONMENT=simonsdev in a terminal, and then all the software running in that terminal would run against that environment instead of the production environment.

The team was under a lot of pressure to get a user-facing app launched so that stakeholders could actually see some results from their several months of investment. One Saturday, an engineer tried to catch up with some work. He finished an experiment he was doing late in the evening, and decided to tidy up and go home. He fired off a cleanup script to delete everything from his development environment, but strangely it took a lot longer than usual. That’s when he realised he’d lost track of which terminal was configured to point to which environment.

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